Although irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can cause a great deal of anxiety and misery, most people can control their symptoms with diet, prescribed medications, and stress management. Children with a functional GI disorder, such as IBS, do have frequent symptoms; but it is important to know that the GI tract does not become damaged. The goal of nutritional intervention is symptom management.

What foods can trigger irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms?

Different people can have different triggers for their IBS symptoms. Things that may make the symptoms of IBS worse include:

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Chocolate
  • Dairy products
  • Drinks with caffeine such as coffee, teas, or soda
  • Sweets
  • Fatty foods
  • Fructose syrup-containing foods and drinks
  • Sorbitol (sweetener usually found in sugar free gum)
  • Certain medicines
  • Emotional events and stress
  • Smoking

What foods should I eat if I have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

Even though there is no cure for IBS, the symptoms can be reduced with the proper diet. Recording your current diet in a journal can help you find foods that trigger your IBS symptoms. Be sure to discuss the results of your journal with your doctor. He or she may recommend a dietitian who can help make changes to your diet.

The best way to battle IBS is to change your diet. Avoid foods that seem to make you feel worse and find ways to deal with your stress. Fiber can be helpful because it improves the way the intestines work. It is important that you still maintain a balanced diet adequate in energy. If multiple foods or entire food groups are eliminated due to IBS symptoms for an extended period of time, alternative foods or nutritional supplementation may be needed. You may want to speak with a registered dietitian if you have questions or difficulty maintaining your intake.

Fiber may also decrease bloating, pain, and other symptoms of IBS. It does this by making the stools softer so that they can pass out of your body more easily. Soluble fiber found in foods such as dried beans and other legumes, oats, barley, and berries may help diarrhea by slowing down the passage of food from the stomach to the intestines and by giving stool form. Foods such as dairy products, carbonated beverages, raw fruits, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts may trigger bloating and gas. You may want to try a lactose-free diet to see if bloating and gas decrease, but be sure to still maintain an adequate calcium intake with fortified dairy alternatives such as almond, soy, or coconut milk. Eating smaller, more frequent meals and following a low-fat diet may also help with the symptoms of IBS.

What foods are high in fiber?

Good sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads, and whole grain cereals. Eating foods from any of these groups will help add fiber to your diet. Try to incorporate some form of fiber with each meal. It is important to add fiber in your diet slowly to minimize bloating and gas that can be brought on by a sudden increase in fiber. These symptoms usually improve as your system gets used to the new amounts of fiber you are eating.

The following foods are examples of those that are excellent sources of fiber:

  • Barley
  • Black beans
  • Bran cereal
  • Brown rice
  • Dry fruits
  • Flaxseed meal
  • Fresh fruit with skins (may be better tolerated cooked or canned)
  • Fresh vegetables (may be better tolerated cooked)
  • Garbanzo beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Lentils
  • Lima beans
  • Navy beans
  • Nuts
  • Oats
  • Raisins
  • Soybeans
  • Split peas
  • Whole grains, including breads and cereals
  • Yams

What are some other sources of fiber?

Besides eating fiber-rich food, to increase fiber intake you can also take bulk-forming supplements such as:

  • Methylcellulose (Citrucel®)
  • Polycarbophil (Equalactin®, FiberCon®, Mitrolan®)
  • Psyllium (Fiberall®, Konsyl-D®, Metamucil®)

As you increase fiber in your diet, it is also important to drink more liquids (water and decaffeinated beverages). Aim for 6 to 8 glasses of water per day. Physical activity, as well as probiotics, like the healthy bacteria found in yogurt or in probiotic supplements, may help decrease symptoms of IBS. Exercising can also help relieve the symptoms associated with IBS.

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